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Kell slipped into the room quickly, pushing shut the doorway to the hidden passageway with one hip as she started to unbuckle the sword sheath from her shoulders. Why now? Why do I have to be presented to court like some woman on the auction block? Her mother's voice echoed in her ears. "The public has to see Princess Linet from time to time. And you have to start being more careful. Sooner or later someone will notice the similarities between the princess and a certain female mercenary. Please do this, for me, Kell."
Slinging her sheath to hang from the top of the tall standing mirror, Kell made a face at the dress laid out for her on the large bed. Dark midnight blue, silk, simple, but elegant. But still a dress. Sighing, she stripped and took a quick bath, scrubbing away dirt from the late afternoon sword practice with the court guards. Young, inexperienced, but maybe some hope in a few of them, too few of them. I have got to see about finding a new captain of the guards, someone who can train these guys, since I'm not supposed to.
She undid the heavy braid and washed her blonde hair in a rush, then stepped from the large tub and dried off, grabbing a short robe and pulling it around herself before stepping back into the main bedroom. She'd asked Camella for a room with a passageway that would lead outside so that she could come and go as she pleased as Kell and no one would be the wiser. And she had specifically asked for no servants. She couldn't take the chance that her other identity as the famous swordswoman would get out. Too many enemies that could use that information against her. And she would lose whatever freedom she had left.
Slumping down at her vanity, she stared at the mass of damp blonde hair curled around her shoulders. She couldn't do a thing with it that would 'princess-like.' She knew that without a doubt. And somehow she didn't think her traditional braid was what her mother had in mind. Just as she was about to stand to hunt down a page to find her mother or another servant to help, there was a knock on the door and a familiar voice.
"Linet? Are you in there?"
Kell stood and went to the door, unlocking it and pulling it open, smiling in relief. "Mother, thank you, you came just when I thinking about finding you." She moved aside to let her in, then closed the door, continuing as she tugged on one strand of hair. "What do I do about this?"
Raven chuckled and gestured toward the vanity. "Sit down and let me help you."
A half hour later, Kell was once again alone in her room, this time dressed to perfection, her long hair pulled back with a silver clasp at the base of her neck, a few ringlets trailing down from her temples over her ears. She stared into the tall mirror, unsure of who the stranger was staring back at her. Dark blue silk dress falling around her body in filmy curves, a silver cord tied at the waist, tiny sandals enclosing her feet. Who is that person? Who am I?
Turning to the bed, she opened the pale green marble box lying among the bedclothes at the bottom of her bed. Inside, surrounded by somewhat faded dark green velvet, was a silver circlet. Traditionally in the times of the far distant past, the circlet had been worn by the queens of Rillanda. But in the last few hundred years, it had been worn by the princesses instead. Raven had told her that the circlet was one of the oldest pieces in the royal Rillandan treasury, but that it hadn't been worn in the last few generations, as there had not been any daughters in the royal family in past 50 years.
Kell gently lifted the circlet from its velvet nest and traced the delicate geometric designs with one finger. It truly was lovely, something she didn't think she was fit for, but to please her mother ... Her fingers touched the inside of the cirlcet and she felt something there as well. Rotating it slightly, she read the inscription, "Love -- Strength -- Courage -- Truth." She muttered quietly, "Right now, I could use some of that courage."
She carefully placed the circlet on her head, and taking a breath, she turned to face the mirror, stepping closer to see herself around the edge of her sheathed sword still hanging on the frame. To her amazement and surprise, the rubies in the sword hilt began to glow and pulse, something they hadn't done since the pin had been taken back by the Lightsisters. She then noticed that the circlet itself was glowing softly. Her eyes dropped back down to her face in the mirror and then she gasped in shock.
It wasn't her in the mirror. It was another girl, younger than her, dark brown hair, blue-green eyes, fine features, dressed in a very similar dark blue shift, complete with a silver cord around her waist. And she was wearing the circlet.
Kell managed to find her voice. "Who are you?"
The girl smiled as she replied, her low voice echoing slightly, as if speaking from a long distance. "I am the beginning of the circle of time. I am the first. I am Kelesa." She lifted one hand and opened it to reveal the sword cloak pin resting in it.
Recognizing the shortened version of her name, plus the pin, Kell's eyes widened slightly. "The pin! Wait, you are the first ... giver, the one the Lightsisters bestowed it to?"
Kelesa nodded. "Yes, the first wearer and giver. And you are the last wearer of the pin, she for whom destiny had awaited. And now you must take up what I left behind -- that of the eventual rulership of Rillanda. The land has impatiently stirred for six hundred years for the return of the true ruler of my blood to its throne. It has waited for the Protector -- you are she, as I could not be. Be of courage, Linet, known as Kellessan, daughter of no one. For that which you have worked for will not be taken away. You have lived your life and done what was prophesied. Live in peace and happiness." Then she raised her other hand and pressed it to the inside of the mirror, or so it seemed to Kell.
Kell instinctively responded and placed her hand against the mirror in the same spot. Her eyes met that of Kelesa's and she whispered, "Thank you."
Kelesa smiled gently. "You're welcome. And thank you." And her image faded to show only Kell, once and now again Linet, heir to the Rillandan throne.
Kell stared at the glass for a moment longer, her eyes still wide. A hard knock on the door jerked her from her reverie.
"Linet? Are you ready in there? The court is about to start."
Dorien. Kell smiled and took a breath to calm herself, then walked over to the door and pulled it open. Dorien stood outside, dressed in all the bardic finery that Camella could dig up in her multiple hiding places, a sash of deep blue going across his chest over the mix of greens, blues, and silvers in his tailored trousers and tunic. He blinked at her, then looked over her shoulder, a frown on his face, as his voice dropped in amusement and secrecy.
"My Lady Linet, you look quite lovely tonight. Did you happen to see a swordswoman perchance anywhere inside? I seemed to have misplaced her."
Laughing, Kell reached out and smacked Dorien lightly on the shoulder. "Watch it, minstrel. I could say the same about you."
Dorien laughed with her, watching as she locked the door to her room. She stood for a second, looking confused on what to do with the key. Dorien plucked it up from between her fingers and slid it into one pocket. "There, now you'll have to stay until I say you can leave." He held out his arm for her to take.
Kell glared at him for a moment, then shook her head, threading her arm through his. As they walked down the long corridor that would take them to the stairs that led to the informal throne room below, Kell asked in a soft, inquisitive voice, "Dorien, how much do you know about the Rillandan royal families of the past?"
Dorien shrugged a little. "Enough. Depends how far back. The library, which is being slowly being reinstalled, would have more information." He looked at her. "Why do you ask? Did you have someone particular in mind?"
She stared off into the distance for a few moments, then continued. "Her name was Kelesa ..."
- The End -
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